SONDER SOUNDING BOARD
By Renée N. Duba, CFP®
The Swamp is Deep. We all need a little help now and then.
April 12, 2019
I recently learned that a friend from high school is one of the victims of Michael Avenatti’s dishonesty.
And man, am I ever angry.
Over the course of my 30+ years as a financial advisor, the vast majority of lawyers that I know and have had the honor to work with are wonderful people who truly care for their clients. But that’s not to say that I haven’t had my run-ins with professionals pretending to provide advice, products or services that are in the best interests of their clients. As I contemplate these terrible experiences, a very sad pattern emerges.
I have worked with attorneys who have the singular objective of making money above all else. Once an attorney-client relationship is seemingly no longer profitable, or they have sent their final bill, lawyers of this ilk don’t really care what happens next for their clients.
And sadly, all of them were involved in one way or another with a client who had experienced great tragedy, and found themselves needing legal and financial assistance on issues way out of their sphere of understanding, rendering them helpless against dishonest legal professionals. And of course, the ramifications of their tragedies follow them long after the lawsuit is won.
A young immigrant couple whose 3-year-old son was brain damaged by a botched surgery and was awarded $10 million for his care. In addition to the 24-hour care their once healthy son now requires, this huge sum of money was yet another overwhelming element they were confronted with, and THE ONLY advice the lawyer gave them was to find an investment manager that had a really good investment performance record. That’s it. No other requirements. No need for financial or estate planning, no need to discuss short and long-term cash needs. No discussion of the future. Nope. Just a good track record. So, let’s hope those young folks don’t find another Madoff.
Or how about the attorney who failed to tell my client that there is a cap on the hourly rate a lawyer can bill guardianship estates? My client paid out of her own pocket for years before the court-imposed limit was discovered, which would have resulted in fees costing less than half of what she actually paid. And when we confronted this attorney? Well, he disappeared, never again to respond to our messages or appear in court on minors’ behalf.
Or how about the attorney who told my client that the proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit pertaining to her husband’s fatal car wreck HAD to be invested in a variable annuity, sold by his very good friend who “knows what he’s doing”? This is not a true statement about the annuity, by the way, and most likely not a true statement about his good friend’s intellect.
The outright lies, or failure to disclose information is unacceptable behavior for anyone, much less an attorney. What makes all of this worse, is that the victims of these bad actors have already been victims of terrible tragedy. My handful of experiences tells me that this type of stuff must be pervasive – a veritable swampland of evil out there feeding on the misfortunes of those less fortunate.
If you know or hear of anyone who may be a victim of these kinds of abuses, speak up! Folks like these and my high school friend need advocacy. They need another pair of ears and eyes to help navigate through difficult times, long after initial tragedy strikes.